Thursday, June 01, 2023

Swords & Heroes


Swords & Heroes. Edited by Lyndon Perry. Tule Fog Press, 2023. 201 pages.

Tule Fog Press is a relative newcomer in the publishing field. A small press that is primarily the work of author and editor Lyndon Perry. Perry is a fan of heroic fantasy and has written a fair amount of it himself, most notably his The Sword of Otrim. Perry is positioned nicely for what currently seems to be a small renaissance in heroic fantasy/sword & sorcery publishing. This anthology brings together twelve short heroic fantasy stories and a couple of interesting nonfiction pieces. One of the stories is mine, but I’ll only briefly mention it and focus mainly on the other pieces in the book.

The foreword is by Jason M. Waltz, a publisher in his own right. He focuses primarily on  “sword and sorcery,” which is a subfield in the greater field of heroic fantasy. He offers a couple of surprising insights, including an evaluation of Batman as a sword & sorcery character.

Next up is a preface by Lyndon Perry, which I found interesting because it discussed the origins of the anthology. If you’re in it for the stories alone you can leap over this directly to the first tale. I like this sort of thing, though.

Next up is “Keeper of Souls” by me. As Perry points out, it’s a sort of a buddy tale, but with a twist that I thought was pretty unusual. I won’t say more about it here.

Story two is “The Path One Doesn’t Choose” by Gustavo Bondoni. Bondoni has been tearing it up recently. I’ve seen numerous short story publications by him in all kinds of genres. His character is Yella, who has to deal with a tribe of villains called the “Wanderers,” with some interesting traits. Enjoyable tale.

Story three is “Lord of the Blood” by Michael T. Burk. Ahanu is the hero here, and his opponent is a demon. But there’s a neat twist to this and it has a strong ending. I don’t believe I’ve read anything by Burk before but this was engrossingly written.

Story four is by Teel James Glenn, a name quite a few will likely recognize. I’m familiar with his work and I believe we’ve shared a TOC before. He is also a fellow member of the Horror Writers Association. Glenn’s story is “The Price of Rescue.” It’s a buddy story with Ada (warrior) and Donal (Bard). After helping to defend a traveling coach against attackers, they are the only survivors and are tasked with taking a young girl to a local government official. Things are not what they seem, however. The characters have some nice interactions here.

Story five is “The Vault of Bezalel” by Tom Doolan. I’m also familiar with Doolan’s work and we’ve shared a TOC before as well. I’ve reviewed several of his stories and always find them enjoyable. Here, a young but deposed king named Liam must now make his way in the world. He runs into a childhood friend who offers him a quick quest with a potentially large reward at the end. Doolan is an action writer and there’s quite a bit of action in this interesting story.

Story six is “On Neutral Ground” by Nancy Hansen.” Serilda is the hero here, a chieftain of her people who are at war with the “Ivari,” a race that strikes me as similar to the concept of Frost Giants. The human war with the Ivari is a battle to the death, with extinction the fate of the loser. There are elements here of the mythic human war in ancient times against the “fey,” which was mined so beautifully by Poul Anderson in his “Broken Sword.” Very well written.

Story seven is by Tim Hanlon, another name I recognize, although I don’t believe he’s been writing very long. The title here is “The Swordsman and the Sea Witch.” Harkan the Swordsman takes passage aboard a ship, which is soon attacked by pirates. The pirates win the battle but their ship is sunk, and now the wind dies way, leaving the survivors becalmed,  including Harkan. Death soon comes slithering from the waves. The Sea Witch of the story is not the monster, however, but the pirate captain, and she and Harkan must work together to find a way to survive. A very fine tale.

Frank Sawielijew is the author of story eight, which has the longish title of “The Necromancer and the Long-Dead King.” This is certainly a candidate for my favorite story in the collection. It features an unusual main character and pairs her with a combination hero/villain against a true evil. Well written and intriguing.

Story nine is “Lady in Stone” by Cliff Hamrick. I’ve known Cliff a while but this is the first story I’ve read by him. I’m sure it won’t be the last. Jarek is another unusual hero, and the story has touches of mystery to season the action and sorcerous horror. A well done piece.

Story ten is by J. Thomas Howard and is called “O Sapphire, O Kambria.” The setting here is pretty unique and I’m curious to learn more about this world, which seems to be a kind of future earth in which dinosaurs have been brought back and taken over. Shades of Jurassic World, perhaps. Great setting for plenty of interesting tales, I should think. Enjoyed this one.

Story eleven is by David A. Riley and is called “Welgar the Cursed.” Riley is a professional editor and publisher who has done much to revitalize heroic fantasy with his “Sword & Sorceries” series of anthologies. He has also produced plenty of good tales himself. Welgar is “god-ridden,” a trope that has been used to great effect by several writers, including Janet Morris with her Tempus tales. I’ll definitely be seeking out more Welgar tales.

Adrian Cole closes the anthology with his “Ride the Fire Steed.” I remember reading Cole’s awesome Dream Lord trilogy published in the 1970s so to share a TOC with him is a pleasure and an honor. (It’s the second time it’s happened.) And Cole is still knocking stories out of the park. This is an exciting and action filled piece to end the anthology on.

But wait, there’s more: There are some brief bios of the authors, and a really interesting round table discussion about Sword & Sorcery, moderated by Lyndon Perry and involving Adrian Cole, Cora Buhlert, Curtis Ellet, D. M. Ritzlin, an old pal from REHupa named Morgan Holmes, P. Alexander, Richard Fisher, and William Miller. Some fun discussion.

In closing, I much enjoyed this anthology and believe it makes an important contribution to the revival of the heroic fantasy genre that we’ve been experiencing of late. See if you don’t feel the same.







Friday, May 26, 2023

Horseshoes & Hand Grenades: John Corabi

Written by John Corabi, with Paul Miles. I imagine Miles did the heavy lifting with the prose and based it on Corabi's stories. Not completely sure. I really liked it. One of the better rock biographies I've read. Corabi comes across as a down to earth sort of fellow, a decent sort who is not afraid to tell the stories that make him look like a flawed human.

I'll admit I bought it primarily for the connection with Motley Crue, but I enjoyed the whole thing. Corabi was in Crue for five years and they did their self-titled album with him as the singer. That's a really good album, although not my favorite by the Crue. Corabi has also been in many, many other bands. I had no idea how many until I read this. He's mostly been a singer but also a guitar player.

One thing I particularly liked is there's a real focus on the music and his experiences on the road without dwelling on groupies and drugs. In fact, he says he never did hard drugs, although he apparently drank quite a lot. And he wasn't the kind of person to try to sleep with as many groupies as possible. Overall, a good book.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

#1: Donovan’s Devils

#1: Donovan’s Devils: The Assassination is Set for July 4…”, by Lee Parker. 1974. Award Books.

This is the first in a series that only went to three books. Book #2 is Blueprint for Execution, and #3 is The Guns of Mazatlan. The author is Lee Parker for all three books, although “Glorious Trash” suggests that the author is either Larry Powell or Robert H. Turner. It’s a “Dirty Dozen” kind of book in which a group of hardcases and misfits are put together for a mission that no one else wants—to rescue some hostages from a local strongman/rebel in Paraguay.

I actually liked the writing here. The book read smoothly. My main issue was that over three-quarters of the book is just putting the team together. We get to meet James Donovan first, an Army captain getting ready to leave the military, who is recruited by his former commander—Brigadier General Lucas Blaine—to take a very special assignment for the POTUS. Rescue an ambassador, a famous doctor, and the ambassador’s daughter from a Guatemalan strongman called El Tigre. The team he puts together, and with whom he has worked before in Vietnam, contains Oliver Bogan (tough black guy), Nathan Carey (sociopath who learns the meaning of friendship), Arthur "Houdini" Gibbs (good natured conman), Francis Quinn (deadly warrior), Irvin "The Bear" Randolph (muscle and dumb jock), and Joseph Teal (Mechanic and chick magnet).

Gibbs, Bogan, and Quinn get a full introduction of their back story and skill sets. I’m guessing book 2 might do the same for the other three. And by the time we get to Paraguay and the actual rescue, there’s only a little over 30 pages of this 154 page book to describe it. It really got the short shrift, and the death of El Tigre was pretty anticlimactic.

I liked the writing well enough that I might try book #2 if I can find it cheap, but I hope we get a little more story and action in that book and a little less background.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers

With a title like Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers (SSGR), you might assume this book is space opera. It’s not. It’s a parody of space opera, which is horse of a different color. Specifically, it seemed to parody most the work of E.E. Doc Smith in his “Lensman” series, which, admittedly, is not the best space opera ever written.

To me, Space Opera and Sword & Planet fiction (like John Carter of Mars) are the purest forms of sheer entertainment out there. They do, however, contain certain tropes that invite some writers to lampoon them. That doesn’t mean the lampooning works.

Harry Harrison (born Henry Maxwell Dempsey, 1925-2012), who wrote SSGR, was a talented writer. He’s best known for his “Stainless Steel Rat” stories but I’ve generally preferred other works of his, including “Make Room, Make Room,” which became the basis for the movie Soylent Green, and the Deathworld stories.

However, humor is difficult to write for even the most talented author. In my opinion it’s the most difficult emotion to create in writing. And I, personally, am pretty difficult to please on the humor front. I like humor in my fiction. Just not all humor all the time. I prefer dark humor, and humor when it comes out of the circumstances and the characters. I don’t generally like it when it’s layered on with a spatula and drowns every line.

While I chuckled here and there through SSGR, I didn’t get any belly laughs and I pretty quickly became bored. I mostly sped-read the last 100 pages. Too often, humor turns characters into caricatures. It defuses tension in order to get in a zinger. It becomes predictable because you know the writer is going to choose the most ridiculous option in any situation. It also makes it difficult to maintain any suspension of disbelief in the actual story. And primarily, it is the “story” that I want when I read.  The story in SSGR was weighed down by so many stabs at humor that I just couldn’t get into it.

SSGR is a well written parody. If you like such pieces you’ll probably like this one. I didn’t care much for it and was rather happy when I was done so I could move on to a different book. Of course, please remember that these are my opinions and your own might differ.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Violet Rising

Violet Rising is the first in a new comic book series from the pen of Tony Petry. I’ve known Tony for a while on Facebook and we’ve carried on a voluminous correspondence. He’s been sending me an image here and there of the comic but now I’ve got the whole first issue. And I read it.

Most comics seem to make the “action packed” claim, but this one lives up to that. It’s crammed full of information and some backstory but doesn’t sacrifice the action to accomplish those goals. The story flows naturally and there are revelations about the character on every page. The end packs a wallop and sets up a big mystery for issue #2.

I believe that Jean-Etienne Nnabuchi and Ekes Momodu handle the drawing work here but the story is Tony’s. (He’s been telling me about it for quite a while.) I’m glad to see it come to fruition. If you’d like to pick up a copy, you can email Tony at: petry_tony (at) yahoo (dot) com

I heartily recommend it.


Friday, February 10, 2023

Alan E. Nourse

Alan E. Nourse was barely on my radar as a writer until fairly recently. I'd read one book by him, Raiders from the Rings, and liked it quite a lot. It was young adult SF, and so I picked up another YA SF book by him called Trouble on Titan. This one was even better. An exciting story and really well written. There's a fair amount of poetry in Nourse's work. 

After this book, I checked Nourse out. He was a medical doctor in addition to writing. He wrote fiction and nonfiction and had a medical column in Good Housekeeping apparently. He was born in the USA in 1928 and died in 1992. The two books I've read have a space operish feel to them and that's a good thing from my standpoint. Excitement and adventure. They are also YA mainly because his protagonists are on the youngish side, essentially teenagers. But the concepts are big. His science is a little dated--Trouble on Titan was published in 1954--but that scarcely detracts from the fun. 

If I'd known who Nourse was as a teenager he might have become one of my favorite SF writers, right up there with Anderson, Heinlein, Norton, and Silverberg (at that time). Now I'm going to check online for some more of his books. Maybe you should too.